Pare down fall schedules to make time for family

By Donna Erickson
Josh Anderson shows 8-year-old daughter Selah how to prune branches on their backyard lemon tree.

Josh Anderson shows 8-year-old daughter Selah how to prune branches on their backyard lemon tree.

Before heading home to Minnesota from our cabin in the California coastal mountains, I dropped by the Anderson family’s lively backyard on a Saturday morning to say good-bye. Between feeding chickens and harvesting veggies, I caught Josh, a dad with three daughters under 10, with pruning shears in his hands showing 8-year-old Selah how to trim small branches from their healthy lemon tree.

“When we cut away this growth and dead branches, it creates space for more life, for more fruit to grow,” he explained to her. As prickly branches tumbled to the ground, he likened what he was doing to family life this fall. Just like pruning the tree, he told me that his wife and kids are aiming to pare down the things that keep them chronically busy and out of balance. “You have to have enough capacity to do what’s important,” he said. “There’s only so much time and energy for all five of us to absorb things into our schedule.”

“But what do you do when you have tempting extras to tag on?” I asked. “We sit down together and determine the non-negotiables, whether that’s family dinners, game nights or going to church together. Even taking a family vacation. The process requires a lot of pruning, but we build our schedule around those. Is it family time or another sports practice? One thing is sure, we know sticking to the non-negotiable activities promotes a healthier family life,” he said.

The lemon tree metaphor and lesson in pruning activities not only applies to young families but to all of us with kids in our lives. Dr. Laurie Bunnel, educator in the Seattle area and mom of two teens with one off to college, faces the overscheduled dilemma, too. “Many parents are trying to be time heroes, driven and sometimes proud to be able to pack everything that comes into their lives into a day. But we can’t do it all, even when we think we should. Focus on priorities that give your life a rhythm of working and resting,” she suggests.

Maybe the start of this new fall season is a good time for you and your family to do a little lifestyle pruning. A family meeting to determine your non-negotiables is a good place to start. Keep thinking of those pruning shears, and cut activities that crowd out meaningful time with those things that matter most.

Like that lemon tree, removing those cluttering branches provides more space for healthy living … and growing.


Donna Erickson’s award-winning series “Donna’s Day” is airing on public television nationwide. To find more of her creative family recipes and activities, visit and link to the NEW Donna’s Day Facebook fan page. Her latest book is “Donna Erickson’s Fabulous Funstuff for Families.”


© 2016 Donna Erickson

Distributed by King Features Syndicate


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